Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wedgwood Drabware

Wedgwood has been synonymous with fine dining and upscale living since the 18th century.  Many people fervently collect Wedgwood for its beauty and its classicism. The English pottery’s pattern, drabware, is rather elusive because it was produced for very specific periods by Wedgwood, and it is this particular design which many, including myself, ardently collect to this day.  


What is it about drabware that captures a collector's or admirer's attention?  Perhaps it’s the indeterminate oatmeal hue of the pattern and its variations for the early 19th century renditions which bespeak good taste, or perhaps it’s the classic lines of the 20th century designs that many of us now want in our homes to set beautiful tables with.  It could also be that the rich color of all drabware stems from the fact that each piece is created using dark clay, rather than white clay which then gets glazed.  This clear glaze over dark clay produces drabware's naturally rich, saturated color.  

Whatever the reasons, one thing is certain: within the last few decades Wedgwood drabware has seen an appreciable rise in its collectibility.  Prices for 19th century pieces can run into the thousands for certain rare items, while its 20th century incarnations command prices of at least $150 for a single dinner plate.  

While researching Wedgwood’s storied history, and in particular its drabware pattern, I came to realize that the first versions of this single design were produced between 1810 and 1860.  What you must understand is that very little is written about it in all of the Wedgwood literature that I've researched. The earliest pieces of Wedgwood drabware were dry-bodied stoneware with bas-relief patterns, either left monochromatic or colored in whites & blues, much like Jasperware.  These call to mind salt-glazed vessels of ‘drab-colored’ Staffordshire pottery that had been produced in the 18th century.  Wedgwood later decided to glaze drabware earthenware, giving the insides of some hollowware pieces a white finish or a robin’s egg blue glaze.  Other pieces were accented with gilding, while some of the more ornate pieces were painstakingly gilded throughout the entire vessel.  These are among the most sought after.  By 1860, however, Wedgwood decided to discontinue the pattern.

It wasn’t until 1970, at Tiffany & Co.’s request, that Wedgwood chose to revive the pattern for the American market.  At the time, a 5-piece place setting retailed for approximately $15.  This is what Tiffany & Co. stated then for marketing the dinnerware: “Because we found it a delightful paradox, Tiffany requested that Wedgwood revive drabware.  This pattern looks as fresh and contemporary as if it had been designed today.  Its chino color and classic shapes are anything but drab and blend successfully with almost any furniture and background, formal or informal.”  After this successful run, the pattern was then once again discontinued for thirty years.

For the millennium, at Martha Stewart’s request, Wedgwood brought back the pattern in earnest.  Martha by Mail became the exclusive retailer in the United States for the pattern and two separate versions were created for the catalog. Collectors like myself quickly bought from an array of choices.  The first was plain drabware in classic shapes and practical pieces of china for table settings. The second version consisted of the same types of dinnerware, with the addition of 22K bands of gilding.  It is the gilded Wedgwood drabware from 2000 that was exclusive to Martha by Mail.  Those pieces were stamped differently from the plain drabware pieces and not everything that was offered in plain drabware came in gilded form.

What I want to do is introduce you to this pattern if you're not familiar with it. For you cognoscenti, I hope this pictorial overview provides you with more information with which to make informed purchases in the future.  

 
Wedgwood drabware

Over the years of writing Good Things by David, you have seen various groupings of my drabware throughout the kitchen and dining room.  All of mine is from the 2000 line.  I have a mix of plain and gilded, with the latter making up the bulk of the collection.  The top left photo shows you one of the breakfronts with some of my drabware on one side and Queen's Ware on the other.  You can see how the stacks of gilded plates gleam with the 22K accents when they catch the light.

It isn't absolutely necessary to have a complete set of this china, because it can blend with so many other patterns and linens.  

To my mind, old silver with flax-colored jacquard linen can be among the most tranquil combinations of this china and I do enjoy setting a table with them.  I was inspired one day while walking along Cape May Point beach to collect some dark gray shells to use as salt cellars for my drabware.  

Teacups and saucers, along with one of the teapots, are always at the ready.  I love to have afternoon tea on one of these cups if I can manage it.

The buff color itself has been used to accent several items around our home. That wooden spice rack that you see was handcrafted by my friend, Nick Stein, and was custom-matched to the exact color of the trim on the 19th century barn along the driveway.  

Take a look.

Doorways, windows, muntins and trim work have been colored using Benjamin Moore's "Baby Turtle", which is very similar to my fine china.

Although drabware from the 2000 line says it's dishwasher safe, I never put it through the rigors of the machine.  I much prefer to hand wash each item, especially if it's gilded.  Hand dried with a thick cotton towel to eliminate waterspots is what we do at chez moi.

Through the centuries
photographs provided by the wedgwood museum
These teapots are beautiful examples of early 19th century drabware.  The top example is ca. 1820-1840 and is called a 'coffee biggin'.  It's a very early form of a coffee percolator which was named after its inventor, George Biggin.  The bottom teapot is ca 1810-1830.  This is a dry-bodied stoneware pot with bas relief.  It's an absolutely splendid example.
  
photographs provided by the wedgwood museum
Teacups have always been practical pieces to have in one's home.  The japonica-relief cup & saucer (top) has a white finish for its interior and has gilding around the rim, handle, foot and lip of the saucer.  The much darker cups (bottom) also from the early 19th century have that beautiful robin's egg blue glaze for the interiors.  These are stunning.  Current market values have them going for well over $200 per cup & saucer (if you can find them!).

photographs provided by the wedgwood museum
The plate and platter are part of a dinner service which was ordered by the King of Denmark in 1822. Set on gilded earthenware, each piece has the crest of the Prince of Denmark on black transfer.

photographs provided by the wedgwood museum
Here we have a candlestick and egg stand from the early part of the 19th century.  Notice the accents of white glaze on the candlestick.  I truly wish that egg stand had been reproduced for the 2000 line. 


This is an example of what you see by way of markings on these early 19th century pieces.   Wedgwood's stamp was always impressed into each vessel from this era.  Small variations are normal.

Tiffany & Co. ca. 1969
The Tiffany & Co. drabware is historically significant because it brought back many of the classic pieces that Wedgwood had produced over 100 years prior. This particular line sold well at all of the Tiffany & Co. locations and was designed specifically for the American market.  I've had several people from England tell me that it is almost unheard of to come across this line of drabware in the U.K.  

If truth be told, this is the china that first captured Martha Stewart's attention.  As she was creating her home at Turkey Hill, Martha bought this drabware for her everyday use (it was featured in her first book, 'Entertaining'), adding early 19th century pieces for decorative elements throughout the parlors of Turkey Hill.  To this day, she has a plethora of it in the servery at Cantitoe Corners.   

The Tiffany line of Wedgwood drabware was marked with the Etruria stamp, also known as the Queen's Ware stamp (this was stamped on Queen's ware beginning in 1940).  If you do come across a piece of drabware with this particular stamp, then you know it is 1969 Wedgwood.

photograph provided by the wedgwood museum
In 1972, for Her Majesty's silver wedding anniversary to the HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edingburgh, Richard Guyatt designed this commemorative mug in drabware.  

Martha Stewart
Martha is one of this country's foremost collectors of Wedgwood drabware, with numerous pieces gracing her homes.  The gilded leaf plates, platters and tureens (above) are stunning examples of early 19th century gilded drabware that she passionately collects.

This famous photograph of the north parlor at Turkey Hill, showcases Stewart's prized drabware.  Hanging plates which flank a sunny window highlight the beauty of this china, while the heavily ornate serving pieces rest in a corner cabinet.  A Jasperware drab-colored bas-relief punch bowl sits on a drop leaf side table next to her settee creating a focal point.  The small dish sitting in the center of the demilune table, beneath the gilt mirror, is Wedgwood caneware, not drabware.

Martha by Mail
With Wedgwood already on Martha's radar, it was only natural for her to partner with the distinguished pottery for the catalog, Martha by Mail, back in the late 1990s.  That she and her team of designers brought back the drabware pattern for the American market, after thirty years, is quite remarkable.  Many classic pieces were meticulously created for consumers and collectors, giving individuals the choice between plain or gilded.  Many of us chose both.

As I said before, not everything was gilded for the 2000 line.  From what I've been able to gather through my own personal collection and through various catalogs, below is a list of items which had gilding. 
  • Dinner Plates
  • Salad Plates
  • Rim Soup Bowls
  • Teacup & Saucer
  • Creamer
  • Sugar Bowl
  • Teapot
  • Coffeepot
  • Eggcups
  • Platters (2 sizes)
  • Serving Bowl/Salad Bowl
  • Fruit Saucers
  • Oval Serving Bowl

Promotional photography in the catalog had many beautiful table settings for drabware.  The group of photos above, shows how well it combines with the warm glow of copper and the muted tones of fine Belgian linen.

Being appropriate for very formal occasions, drabware is also well-suited for casual meals.   

Drabware Markings for c. 2000
It's very important to know how the 2000 'millennium' drabware is stamped. The photograph above shows you what all plain drabware pieces have underneath each vessel.  Note the stylized W with the imbedded outline of Wedgwood's famous Portland vase at the very top.  Underneath that you have Wedgwood spelled out in all caps with the registered trademark.  The name of the pattern, 'Drabware', is in all caps as is 'Made in England' directly below it.  At the bottom you have c. 2000.   

photograph provided by the wedgwood museum
This is the famed Portland vase produced by Wedgwood.  Normally, one only sees the image of this vase stamped on Wedgwood's bone china patterns and not on earthenware.

Collectors take note:  the gilded teacup & the egg cups have a pared down version of the Wedgwood markings.  The top photo shows you what each gilded teacup is stamped with, and yet, the saucers have the full stamp (bottom photo).  The 'Gilded Drabware' marking underneath the rest of the gilded vessels is remarkable.  Underneath the name of the pattern you have a dividing line, which then follows with Martha Stewart's name in all caps.  You then have Earthenware & England 1759.  The year 1759 was when Josiah Wedgwood set up shop and founded the Wedgwood pottery we know today.

You can see how well suited drabware is to color by these photographs that I've taken in my home throughout the years.  Drabware teacups are such a pleasure to hold and they have often been used for other things besides tea.  I've been known to toss fresh berries from the garden into a cupful of yogurt into one.  Not one of these table settings is formal.  These are simple affairs.

My friend Kevin, likes to use his gilded drabware for more formal occasions. Here is a holiday table set with a Turkey Red tablecloth and some gilded Wedgwood pieces, alongside gilded silverware that has been in the family for years.  It picks up and reflects the gilding on the plates.  Kevin tells me that he adores combining this pattern with brown Staffordshire transferware.  

In my home, just like at Kevin's, drabware is perfect to usher in the holidays.  Its warm hue is so inviting at a Thanksgiving table and you can get as ornate as you want with these types of settings.  As you can see, I've even combined it in the past with old 19th century ironstone plates with great success. 

Let's not forget that black can be paired with drabware very nicely.  If you collect Wedgwood basalt pieces, try mixing & matching them with some drabware.  That would make quite a table!  I almost feel as if drabware is the 'little black dress' of china that goes with everything and is perfect for any occasion. 

 Wedgwood Drabware

Wedgwood drabware is an acquired taste to be sure.  It isn't everyone who takes to this pattern with complete delight.  I've heard people describe drabware as "those brown plates" and I can assure you, even they come to appreciate its ability to blend in at the dinner table.  The classic lines and the calming hue of drabware combines with just about any color and tone.  

If you're a budding collector and wish to bring a few pieces of it into your home, replacements offers an assortment of cups, salad plates and other pieces from the 2000 line at very good price points.  Even with a small set of Wedgwood drabware, you can still set a splendid table and admire its elegance.


Among my favorite pieces of fine china to set a table with at home, Wedgwood drabware is as beautiful and timeless today as it was over two hundred years ago.  

25 comments:

  1. Very informative and feeds my collecting addiction! Thank you David!

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  2. I'm glad you found it informative. I tried to be as thorough as possible without writing a dissertation! :)

    ~David

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  3. David, can I ask how much drabware you have? That cabinet of yours seems like there is plenty.

    I would love to start collecting it!

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  4. Well Linda, I do have quite a bit, but a collector is always looking to add a bit more, don't you think?

    You should start collecting drabware if you can, because it's beautiful. You're going to love having it in your home and on your dining table.

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  5. This post is beautiful, love your collection David! I am so excited to have breakfast cups of my own on the way.

    I adore the darker cups with pale blue interior glaze! Oh how lovely those are!

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  6. Thanks a lot Bernie, I hope it was comprehensive enough to give collectors good information. Wow, I don't own the breakfast cups and saucers in Drabware! Lucky you!

    Happy Collecting,
    David

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  7. Lovely! I have such a love for my Wedgwood and see I'm not the only one. I have the Queen's Plain collection and Romantic England in black. I've been thinking about starting a drabware or Queensware Traditional Plain collection.

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  8. That's wonderful, Trina! I feel it's such a personal affair that us collectors have with our Wedgwood china.

    Enjoy collecting!

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  9. Drabware was my wedding china in 1975. A former priest who had left the church and taken a job as a salesman at Tiffany's in Houston TX (!) steered me to it. Now, after umpteen moves and two divorces, I have just one piece left, and I treasure it. To add to your "dissertation," the priest/salesman told me that drabware was used in servants' halls. That's why it was drab. It was never considered fine china, according to him. I do not know if this is true or not.

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  10. That is so interesting Miss Foy! I can only imagine what it must have been like to have received Wedgwood Drabware as wedding china. Remarkable!

    You know, the priest may have been onto something about it being too drab for fine dining in the 'upstairs' portion of fine homes. I think a friend of mine told me that they caught a glimpse of some on a TV show/drama (could have been Downtown Abbey) where the servants had pieces of drabware in their quarters. Amazing!

    Enjoy the drabware you have remaining!

    ~David

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  11. Martha's Drabware resides up in Alaska, too. Loved seeing mine out for Thanksgiving. That's why I found your blog after the cleanup. It just made me want to read more about it. My favorite pieces are my Strawberry Basket and my honey pot. Joy, joy! OK, I feel a hankering for a cup of tea in my guilded cup:) Thank you!
    JoAnn

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  12. JoAnn,

    You're very fortunate to have Drabware! I completely understand your love for it and why you enjoy using it. The gilded version is very special to me.

    I'm so glad you found the blog!

    ~David

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  13. Wedgwood drabware is beautiful Coco! :)

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  14. Thanks David!! I am so inspired to start collecting. The shapes and color are so versatile! My current collection of Wedgwood is so hard to match with anything... The gilded pieces are especially beautiful and your collection is amazing! I wish that the un-gilded millennial pieces were also marked with Martha Stewarts name though. I'm new to drabware, and there is so much to learn, but your post was tremendously helpful! ~David K. :)

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    1. David, I'm glad I was able to help you with this post. I agree 100% with your assessment of drabware's versatility. The color and shapes really can be paired with so many different pieces.

      Certain Wedgwood patterns are rather difficult to match, especially if there is a lot of pattern or color on each plate. However, so much from the china manufacturer is absolutely gorgeous that you really can't go wrong with a table set with Wedgwood. :)

      I know what you mean about the c.2000 plain drabware not being marked with Martha's name being confusing.

      I hope you do start collecting David, and I wish you all the luck. Even if you begin with the essentials you can gracefully put a table together that will look marvelous.

      My Drabware Essentials:
      -Cups & Saucers
      -Luncheon Plates or Salad Plates
      -Coffeepot and/or Teapot
      -cereal bowls or cream soup bowls

      Happy Collecting!

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  15. To this day I lament the loss of Martha By Mail, and regret not ordering more from it. I wish Wedgewood/Martha brought back Drabware.

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    1. I know what you mean and I understand your frustration. In hindsight I would have ordered certain things which weren't on my radar back then. It's sad to say, but we will probably never see this type of quality ever again

      Wedgwood should bring back drabware. I think it's due for a renaissance.

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  16. I have a whole set of the MS plain Drabware, because my ex-wife was enamoured of it, while I hated it. But, for our wedding registry, I chose Wedgwood Sterling china for our formal tableware, and she chose the Drabware as our everyday dishes. Because out home was in a state of renovation, we never used the formal china, and when my wife decided to leave me, she emptied out the house and took everything, leaving me with nothing to cook in or eat on. Then one day, she decided she didn't like the Drabware anymore, and summarily dropped it on my porch in the middle of the day, while I was away at a client site. My family spent a ton of money collecting the Drabware for us because she wanted it, and then she just left a fortune's worth of it sitting in a box on the stoop, where anyone could have stolen, and I wouldn't even have known it was there.

    I do appreciate the flexibility and calming aspects of Drabware, but honestly, it's just not me. I'm more of a plain white porcelain girl, with maybe a platinum band, which is the reason I picked Wedgwood Sterling in the first place. If anyone would like to acquire a good-sized, fairly complete selection of the Wedgwood Martha Stewart Drabware that's sitting in a storage unit in Atlantic County, NJ, feel free to contact me. I would be thrilled to see it go to someone who appreciates in better than I, and I could really use the money.

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    1. Wow, Gemma, that's quite a story behind your Drabware. I agree with you in that this pattern is not for everyone. For years I was all about the white porcelain everything, but lately I've been craving a different palette.

      Gemma, you can always email me at goodthingsbydavid@gmail.com

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    2. I realize I'm late to the party on this, but Gemma I'm wondering if you have any pieces left? I am interested in collecting.

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  17. Wonderful information, David. I have recently been given the task of selling 8 NIB place settings of 1970's Tiffany & Co. Drabware. Have you a suggestion as to the best venue for its sale?

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    1. Chantel,

      How nice to have that amount of NIB place settings of the Tiffany & Co. drabware!

      Well, the three obvious venues that I can think of which will give you the biggest audiences are: Ruby Lane (they are good because they have high quality antiques and vintage pieces), eBay (this is the biggest platform of course) and then there is Etsy (many people may not go directly to etsy for antiques, but some do).

      Make sure that you have a price in mind for each place setting and be as thorough as possible when writing your description and when taking photographs of the china. Collectors, such as myself, appreciate photographs that capture the style, color, size and amount of items being sold.

      Best of luck and do email me when you have your listing(s) up. I know several collectors who would be interested!

      Best,
      David

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  18. I recently purchased what i thought was a brown and blue jasper creamer... have now discovered its Drabware! Same design as the teapot you show above. Little bit gobsmacked tbh! Tessa Kaine

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    1. That's a good find, Tessa, congratulations!!! Enjoy that beautiful piece of pottery. :)

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